“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” ~ Thomas Edison
This blog post is about being a maker and the kind of learning environment that creates makers. Every educational environment needs a Makerspace that embraces the Universal Design for Learning (i.e., providing children with information in more than one format; allowing children to use materials in multiple ways to demonstrate their learning; and where teachers explore various ways to motivate students). I am lucky to be working in a place where STEM and STEAM challenges are offered regularly to students; these can be explored in the context of a Makerspace or in the regular classroom. In combination, the UDL, STEM/STEAM challenges and the Makerspace promote: inquiry, hands-on learning, play, risk-taking, imagination, innovation, critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, personalized learning, creative expression, and perseverence, to name a few! Providing an environment of innovation where the space and needed tools are available lays the foundation for meaningful learning, for developing higher order thinking skills, and for sharing ideas that promote positive changes.
The Makerspace invites students to ask big questions about what they are trying to make, about the problem they are trying to solve and about the solutions they hope to find. They can imagine and plan and consider what will make their plan possible. This can involve drawing or sketching their idea. They can create and construct using the materials available to follow their plan and see if they can achieve their goal. Students can then analyze their work and reflect on what was successful and what did not go so well. They can then redesign and improve their plan and their creation, to achieve their goal. Lastly, students can communicate their experience, not only sharing their product and/or solution with others, but receiving constructive feedback as well. STEM and STEAM challenges not only help to make all of this possible, they provide the opportunity for students to:
- S (Science) – observe, experiment, test, wonder, explore, predict, ask questions, invent
- T (Technology) – interact, navigate, search, research
- E (Engineering) – design, construct, assemble, investigate, build, improve
- A (Arts) – create, model, draw, paint, film, perform
- M (Mathematics) – measure, calculate, graph, estimate, find patterns, solve problems
There are important considerations when setting up a Makerspace and these are the room to do it, the cost involved, and the tools/materials needed, though a huge amount of space is not required. Within classrooms a centre or station can be created which can allow educators to integrate the maker philosophy into the curriculum without investing a lot of money. Tools can be acquired at thrift shops, or donated by parents, along with recyclables that can be transformed into new products. For young children, projects do not need to be complicated in order to promote problem-solving and a growth mindset. As an added benefit, offering a ‘maker day’ to young children can be a huge incentive and an achievable goal. For example, if the group does a great job at tidy time all week, they can be treated to a special project day, for building a structure for their stuffed toy or inventing something that needs an axel and wheels, for example. Children develop amazing skills and learn so much in a way that is inspiring and fun. If you don’t have one in your classroom yet, then maybe it’s time to make space for a Makerspace.
“Tomorrow we will do beautiful things.” ~ Antonio Gaudi